Sat | Aug 17, 2019

Ronald Thwaites | Yes … for the last time!

Published:Monday | July 22, 2019 | 12:08 AM
Security forces on the ground during early stages of a state of emergency now on in St James.

The House of Representatives continued its slackness last Tuesday. Proceedings started one hour late. Disrespect is shown for the members, staff and a gallery full of invited guests, including the British high commissioner.

Waiting on a special minister to arrive was the lame excuse. And not a word of apology when we eventually began. Why bother? It’s part of the pervasive mentality that we are in power now and the whole of you better just fit in to how we run things. Creeping autocracy manifests itself in small acts of contempt. Chronic disregard for other people’s time is one such.

There followed the oft-repeated litany of justification for extending the state of emergency (SOE) in the South St Andrew Police Division for a further three months. The prime minister begins with the terrible statistics of Jamaican crime relative to almost every other country. He suggests that other places have altered their laws and security practices to meet extraordinary circumstances. It is the run-up to the advocacy for continued suppression of everyone’s constitutional rights.

He acknowleldges that our crime and violence is in the nature of a public health crisis and promises a study on the aetiology of violence in Jamaica. But in the meanwhile, repression as usual, even though the ineffectualness of states of emergency in sustainably stanching crime is staring him in the face. Not a mention of social reconstruction in the affected communities – not even the pity-mi-little variety of the ZOSOs [zones of special operations]. He markets the SOE as the only way.

The position is riddled with contradictions. But the government members clap fervently anyway.

Peter Phillips responds with a measured, scholarly presentation, recommending the redemptive work of the Peace Management Initiative alongside the temporary and surgical use of suppressive measures like states of emergency. Why not intensify strategies which work rather than repeating failure, he asks.

He calls again for a collaborative approach to the development of a comprehensive anti-crime plan. Up to now, the Government clearly has no inclination to talk with anyone but themselves.

Hollow ‘successes’

Peter Bunting has carefully analysed the statistics and is devastating in exposing how hollow are the ‘successes’ of the SOEs. The cheering section on the Speaker’s right can’t bear the truth. “A becau you bad mine di ting” is the predictable cry. Whatever the Government does which does not work must be the PNP’s fault. Right?

He continues: “Our rights are being viewed as obstacles” to fighting crime and violence and so may (meaning will) have to be set aside for seven years. All needed to save lives, they say. Bunting exposes what I feelto be no less than creeping proto-fascism. Watch the militarising of the security forces.

Why was the Unite for Change programme scuttled? Where is the aggressive strategy of economic enablement, of social reconstruction which, along with saturation policing, can defuse “hotspots, hot people and hot behaviour”?

The suggestion is made to establish a nationwide truancy zone so as to keep more of the thousands of children who do not attend school from the clutches of the gangs. Holness promises to go look into it. That cannot be enough.

The comprehensive contributions of the five Opposition speakers far outrank in reasoning what the prime minister has said. He is distressingly unimpressive in trying to rebut Bunting. Then comes the vote.

The Jamaica Labour Party members appear sure that states of emergency are the best crime-fighting measure possible although their own position seems likely to be contradicted by their own reality. The People’s National Party members are either so convinced themselves or afraid of the political fallout of opposing the measure in this instance.

The principled position to oppose because of unconstitutionality, taken by Bunting and Golding, is admirable. The members of parliament whose constituencies comprise the area covered by the SOE feel that it should continue a while longer. Out of respect for their judgement, I vote yes, too – but I don’t expect to do so again.

Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.